Dead Reckoning

by Charlaine Harris (Gollancz) ISBN: 9780575096547

 

When you have an urban fantasy that has a heroine named Sookie picking up synthetic blood for her vampire boyfriend at the Grabbit Kwik shop, or Elvis Presley turned into a bloodsucker by a distraught Memphis morgue assistant, you know this is a novel you shouldn’t take too seriously.

 

The good news is that Charlaine Harris doesn’t want you too. It’s obvious that she has a whole lot of fun writing her far-fetched Sookie Stackhouse yarns—and it rubs off on the reader.

 

Of course, the series has been turned into a hit HBO television series, True Blood, starring Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer.

 

The books are narrated by Sookie, a bargirl living in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She doesn’t just serve ice-tea and burgers in a short skirt—she also has the telepathic gift of reading people’s minds. In the stories, vampires and other paranormal beings have come out of their closets and crypts and live openly among humans. Harris presents this crazy community of werewolves, shape shifters, elves and vampires with sardonic, off-beat humour—she even has a fairy character who is a gay stripper.

 

In Dead Reckoning, Sookie has a whole bunch of human and non-human forces trying to kill her, including a white-trash psychogirl with a grudge and a truculent mafia-style vampire king. But the plot is not important: the pleasure is living vicariously through these crazy, sexy characters’ daily lives.

 

Unlike the stiff, weepy Twilight saga, the Sookie books have a loose, steamy Southern charm that mixes seedy urban drama with witty and outlandish fantasy to deliver an exciting adventure story. A really great read!

 

Anthony Ehlers 

4/5

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The Boy in the Snow

by M.J. McGrath (Mantle) ISBN 9780230748194

 

The story begins with an intriguing prologue, immediately sparking the reader's curiosity. Sammy Inukpuk is on an endurance sled race. His sled is drawn by dogs in the Alaskan forest. Edie Kiglatuk, his ex-wife is there with friends to support him. Her belief in 'spirit bears' leads her to a discovery of a dead boy in the forest.

 

She feels compelled to pursue the story behind her find and becomes obsessed in solving the mystery. She is tested to the limit of her endurance. This is one feisty lady. Her tenacity knows no bounds. She is determined to expose people involved in politics, greed and corruption, however dangerous it becomes. She feels she is the only person willing to go all the way to solve the mystery.

 

The story unfolds gradually and the builds momentum to become a thriller, compelling the reader to find the solution to the puzzle. The Alaskan setting adds flavour and authenticity to the story as the descriptions are palpable.

 

An absorbing read that lingers in your mind even after putting it down.

 

Dawn Blankfield

4/5

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Aleph

by Paulo Coelho (Harper Collins) ISBN: 978-0-00-7435551-7

 

The popular writer of spiritual books is not happy. A conversation with J, his mystic mentor, does not help him with his frustration. Paulo Coelho decides to embark on a journey to reconnect with his fans, much to his publishers’ dismay. They will need to accompany him on a train journey. Not just any train. He chooses the Trans-Siberian Railway, one of the longest railways in the world.

 

A young woman, Hilal insists on accompanying him. She is a talented musician who claims that she has to help Coelho with his spiritual journey. He is mildly irritated but realises he cannot stop her. As the journey progresses, and Hilal’s connection to Paulo Coelho’s past life becomes clear, Coelho realises the encounter is not by chance. Hilal was his lover 500 years ago. Her purpose in his present life is to help him discover forgiveness. Hilal helps Coelho to achieve a spiritual awakening that surpasses time and space.

 

The book is jarring. Coelho appears arrogant in certain chapters. I found his journey uncomfortable and not always clear. Perhaps it his ‘out of body and out of this world’ that I could not relate to. Coelho loyal fans will still enjoy the book.

 

Ulrike Hill

2/5

 

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The White Shadow

by Andrea Eames (Random House) Price R215.00 ISBN 9 781846 555695

 

The White Shadow is set in a small rural village in Zimbabwe, and I would suggest that, unless you have had that experience, this will be a difficult book to understand.

 

The guerrilla war of the ‘60s haunts the bush lands but doesn’t touch the small schools and villages. The knowledge of this war was worldwide but the actual facts were not seen by anyone living away from the war of that time. 

 

Tinashe, a Shona boy is thrilled when his tiny sister, Hazvinea, is born. He knows there is something special about her, and spends his life trying to protect her from harm. They have a rich Uncle who lives in town who occasionally visits the family with his son, Abel. Abel becomes embroiled in both the Shona spirit world, and the political turmoil of the nation.

 

Tinashe will go to any lengths to protect his sister but how can he compete with dark and sinister forces that are threatening her.

 

The reason for the book being written is not clear and I came away feeling empty and wondering if I had missed the point. I’m afraid I found this book hard to recommend.

 

Dee Andrew

1/5

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The Blue Door

by Lise Kristensen (Macmillan) ISBN 978-0-230-76027-1.

 

This story exposes how the Allies were treated in Japanese Prisoner of War Camps during the Second World War in The Philippines. Gripping? Yes. Disturbing? Definitely.

 

This compelling read is a memoir written in the voice of the author from when she was a ten year old. Lise is Norwegian-blooded but a Java-born prisoner. The horrors that took place were shocking. Even more poignant was the courage and strength shown by little Lise as she helped keep her mother and younger siblings alive for three years under the most inhumane conditions.

 

Most people know about the German concentration and death camps where six million Jews were obliterated, but how many people know the number of Allies who died from starvation and torture at the hands of the Japanese in their strongholds? There were Europeans from Norway, Denmark and other countries living in The Philippines who were treated worse than rats. Yet nobody talks about them and the suffering they still go through emotionally, physically and financially. Adding insult to injury, the Japanese, unlike the Germans, never had to pay reparations.

 

A fascinating story written in an easy-to-read style although the subject matter is harrowing.

 

Amanda Blankfield

4.5/5

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Nightmare

by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton) ISBN 9 781444 700718

 

This is a haunting story in every way possible. Don’t stop your hands from clutching the book because terror reigns on every page.

 

A little girl called Sophie kissed her doll’s head as she slid from the balcony of the fourteenth floor building.  Jack Nightingale was too late to save her from falling although he was nearby.

Is everyone he meets going to call out “Jack Nightingale”? Even strangers on the street?  No wonder he tries to run away from his life.

 

The hellions of Death seek him out at every possible moment. And he seeks, through supernatural means, to find out what is going on. His secretary, Jenny believes in him and his innocence, but that’s not enough to help him. He has to find the little girl Sophie who lost all her family and then decided to take her own life.

 

This is a different kind of thriller, much like a ride on a roller coaster. If it is possible to research satanic worship and other supernatural things, then Stephen Leather has really done his homework. 

 

The end is mind blowing and challenges all your beliefs about death. Whew, it is a really good read.

 

Dee Andrew

5/5

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Stay Close

by Harlan Coben (Orion) ISBN: 978 1 4091 12563

 

Harlan Coben, the master of the twist, is back with another hard-paced, unputdownable thriller. 

 

The convoluted plot is not easy to summarise but easy to follow once it pulls the reader in. Detective Broome has to solve a baffling mystery—on Mardi Gras night in Atlantic City each year, some no-good loser guy goes missing, never to be seen again. 

 

After almost twenty years of these suspicious disappearances, he is determined to break the pattern. When Megan, ex-stripper turned suburban soccer mom, comes forward with some vital information, she doesn’t realise she’s put herself—and her ex-lover, a battle-scarred photographer called Ray—in some serious danger.

 

Atlantic City is a great setting, kind of like Vegas without Celine Dion and the big electricity bill, and this added to the great atmospheric noir elements of the story. Coben doesn’t only do the plot twist like a pro—he does the sardonic humour well too. It was especially great to see how he brought in some clever and absorbing observations about human nature through his colourful characters’ voices. The theme of the novel—wanting to go back and change the past—was pretty damn poignant.

 

Stay Close is a great novel, told in a great narrative voice. It’s a really immersive entertainment. Pick it up on a Friday night and when you’ve come up for air, your whole weekend will have disappeared. Trust me.

 

Anthony Ehlers 

4.5/5

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Take Me Home

by Tessa Cunningham (Pan MacMillan) R190 ISBN: 9780283071584

 

When Tessa visits her 95-year-old father in a care home, something so imperceptible happens that she almost misses it. As she takes his hand to say goodbye, he kisses her cheek and holds on to her hand a fraction too long. She sees the yearning in his eyes that he is too proud and too loving to express: ‘I’m scared, please take me home.’

 

This is how the story of Tessa, divorced, with a daughter at home and another one leaving for university, begins. She is struggling with life after recovering from breast cancer. The ordeal she has gone through with all the treatments made me understand even more what breast cancer really means in someone’s life.

 

Often, with memoirs, I cringe on the intimacies that people share, but this book is so well written and full of love that I felt inspired by her story. I can truly recommend it. There is a lot of wisdom in her father’s advice, when he said, ‘just deal with what you can and leave the rest for another time.’ Taking her father home was a remarkable thing to do and the book that came out of this experience is well worth it.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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Tigers in Red Weather

by Liza Klaussmann (Picador) ISBN 978-1-4472-1205-8

 

This is the part of the review where I should be telling you what the book is about. Not as easy as you would think with this one. Not only does she use five viewpoints, the book suffers from a serious case of genre confusion as well.

 

Nick and Helena are cousins. Nick is married to Hugh and they have a daughter, Daisy. Helena’s son is Ed and she is married to a shady, obsessed Hollywood wannabe. It starts off as a study of oppressed housewives, jumps to the children finding a body, then Hugh has an epiphany, after which Helena and Ed delighted me with their dark jealousies and sick minds and saved the book and the ending with delightful shiver down the spine.

 

To elaborate more would give too much away so forgive my ambiguity. I loved the settings. I too want a house with a name and a matching boat and party bunting and cocktail hour. The dialogue is engaging and effortless. The different viewpoints are fun, but reminded me more of a creative writing exercise in characterisation than of a story.

 

The slow start also almost had me putting the book down. Full marks for gin in jam jars though and just for that I’ll upgrade it from a 2.5 to 3/5.

 

Mia Botha

3.5/5

 

 

This is an excellent read. The main character, Nick, is a restless woman. She says she loves her cousin, Helena but the author shows you very cleverly how she demoralises her.

 

This book reveals the epitome of East Coast glamour in the 1930s and 1940s. It is the era of martinis and cigarettes and spoiled women with their pampered children. And how well the author combines sexiness with loving motherhood. 

 

Tiger House is where it all happens. World War 11 is just ending and Nick expects her husband home at last. Meanwhile her cousin, Helena finds married bliss, sort of, in Hollywood.

 

Ed is Helena’s grown son. He is a totally ghastly character. Daisy, Nick’s daughter, is interested in tennis and carries an air of innocence with her. This makes her friendship with Ed terrifying. Who knows what he’ll do to her.

 

I couldn’t put this book down. The author tells of family feuds so well and her characters are very real. I recommend this book strongly if you enjoy a good read.

 

Dee Andrew

5/5

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XO

by Jeffery Deaver (Hodder & Stoughton) ISBN: 9780340937327 R195 



Kayleigh Towne, a beautiful young singing superstar, signs her fan mail XO. Most fans realise this is a form email sent to millions, but Edwin Sharp loves Kayleigh a little more than the average fan. And that XO means everything to him. Edwin sends gifts, mails messages to her private address and he knows everything about her. When he arrives in Fresno for a concert, Kayleigh and her entourage are stunned. 

Kathryn Dance, music lover, is in town. Dance is a police officer, an agent with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI). She is also Kayleigh’s friend. Dance is an expert in kinesics, but stalkers are the most difficult criminals to read. They believe their version of the truth. It is their reality. 

A series of murders begin. The killer targets people close to Kayleigh, using the lyrics of Kayleigh’s song, Your Shadow to let everyone know he is about to kill. Dance joins the investigation. Is Sharp the killer? He cannot be tied to the murders. His intimate knowledge of Kayleigh is available to anybody from dedicated ‘stalker’ fan sites. The murders continue, new suspects emerge, and Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs make a guest appearance. 

XO twists and turns and never disappoints. I finished the book in less than a day. Deaver is the master of the art of plotting stories of personal terror. His characters are complex, his dialogue is simple, and his pacing is perfect. 

Amanda Patterson
5/5 

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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